STDs and HIV
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are a variety of clinical syndromes
and infections caused by pathogens that can be acquired and transmitted
through sexual activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) stresses that prevention and control of STDs are based on the following:
- Education and counseling of persons at risk in order to change sexual behaviors
- Vaccination (not available for all STDs) of at risk persons, prior to exposure
- Identification of infected persons both with or without symptoms
- Effective diagnosis, treatment, counseling, and follow up of infected persons
- Evaluation, treatment, and counseling of sex partners of infected persons
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)
HIV weakens the immune system by destroying important cells that fight
disease and infections. Only certain body fluids (blood, semen, pre-seminal
fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk) can transmit HIV
to another person. These fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane
or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream (from a
needle or syringe) for transmission to occur. Mucous membranes are found
inside the rectum, vagina, penis, and mouth.
AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is the most severe phase of HIV
infection. People with AIDS have weakened immune systems and are prone
to an increasing number of severe illnesses. Without treatment, people
with AIDS typically survive about three years.
No effective cure exists, but HIV can be controlled with proper medical
care. Males and females age 15 to 65, or anyone else at increased risk,
should be screened. All pregnant women should be screened.
Chlamydia and Gonorrhea
Chlamydia is the most commonly reported STD in the U.S. About 25% of women
and 50% of men get symptoms (an odd discharge, or pain or burning when
urinating). Chlamydia is caused by bacteria and is treated with
antibiotics. After treatment, retesting should occur in three months.
Gonorrhea is another common bacterial STD and the symptoms are similar
to chlamydia. Most men with gonorrhea get symptoms, but only about 20%
of women do. Gonorrhea is easily treated with antibiotics.
Screening for both chlamydia and gonorrhea should occur annually for all
sexually active women age 24 and younger, and in older women at increased
risk. This can be in the form of a urine test.
Syphilis has four stages. In the primary stage, the main symptom is a sore. The
secondary stage starts with a
rash on the body, followed by sores in the
mouth, vagina, or
anus. Symptoms usually disappear in the third (latent) stage which can last
for years. The final stage of untreated syphilis can cause organ and nerve
damage, and brain problems. Antibiotics can treat syphilis and early treatment is best.
Both strains of the
herpes virus (HSV-1 and HSV-2) can
cause genital herpes. Herpes may cause painful
blisters around the sexual organs. Herpes can be easily transmitted through skin-to-skin
contact. The blister stage is the most contagious, but it can also be
transmitted in the absence of blisters. Because herpes is a virus, it
cannot be cured, but it can be managed by
HPV (Human Papillomavirus)
HPV, the most common sexually-transmitted infection in the U.S., is named
for the warts (papillomas) it can cause. HPV is transmitted through intimate
skin-to-skin contact. It can be transmitted even when an infected person
has no signs or symptoms, and can develop years after contact.
Most types of HPV have no symptoms and cause no harm. However, some
cause genital warts or infect the
mouth and throat.
Cancer of the
mouth, or throat can occur. Cancer often takes years, even decades, to develop
after a person gets HPV.
HPV vaccines can protect males and females and are recommended at age 11
or 12. Routine pap tests for women aged 21 to 65 years are also important
to screen for cervical cancer.